winter

#1023: “Just the pieces of the man I used to be”

RECORD STORE TALES #1023: “Just the pieces of the man I used to be”

You never know how it’s gonna go.

You roll out of bed feeling like a winner, and then suddenly for absolutely no reason, that completely changes and you’re struggling to break even.

Maybe it’s the pressures of modern life.  The hustle and the bustle.  The need to get things done, even though you’re behind and energy is in short supply.

The feeling of loneliness even though you are not alone.  There’s a dark place in your heart, only inhabited by you, that no one can break into.  It’s not that you can’t let them in.  It’s that you don’t even know how to open that door.  Of if you actually want to.  If you’d prefer to be alone.

The daily monotony, the commute, the cold, the damp.

The fact that all the hours of daylight happen when you’re in an office doing your daily grind.

The pressure and drive to do something important, to be someone who matters.  To make a difference.  To be somebody…anybody…but who you are.

Somehow, a sad song helps.  There’s something about a sad song that can pry its way into your soul.  Provide sympathy.  Warmth.  Help you dry the tears.  That tells you someone out there is feeling the exact same way you do.  It’s as if someone in the world knows you, just as well as you know yourself.

You could be in a room full of happy celebrations, and feel so alone, so completely down, yet have to fake it to make it.

One of the worst winters of my younger life was the winter of ’95-96.  I had just been dumped by my first real serious girlfriend.  I put on a brave face and for a few days, I thought I had weathered the storm.  I listened to “classic British hard blues” that week and felt super strong.  The crash came later.  One of the albums that helped me through that winter was Queen’s Made In Heaven.  The final album with Freddie.  Though there is some undeniable dark material on the album, such as “Mother Love”, and “Too Much Love Will Kill You”, I was amazed at how positive some of the other songs such as “Heaven For Everyone” were.  The album was like a journey through my own convoluted feelings.

“I’m just the pieces of the man I used to be,
Too many bitter tears are raining down on me.”

Yet on the same album:

“In these days of cold affections,
You sit by me and everything’s fine.”

What will the album for the winter of 2022 be?  For the last several years, I’ve been digging deep down into the albums that made me happy as a youth.

“Listen! They said I didn’t stand a chance,
I wouldn’t win no way,
But I’ve got news for you,
There’s nothing I can’t do!”

It was a different time.  There was misery, but nothing can duplicate that feeling of hearing a song for the first time.  A song that you know means something to you.  That is destined to stick with you for your whole life.  And when you put those records on again, a million things start happening in your head.  You can be 12 or 13 again.  A time when the real problems of life were completely unknown to you and the biggest issue you had was figuring out how to talk to the girl you liked.

Like a phantom of a dream, old songs make the memories real again.  As you wipe a tear from your eye, you remember.  It can help sooth the sadness.

Sometimes you just have to cry it out, whatever it is.  Hell, I don’t know what it is exactly.  I just know it sucks.

They say that life never hands you anything you can’t handle.  I don’t know about that.  History is rife with people who could not handle what life has given them.  I think I can – but it’s never simple, straightforward, or obvious how to do it.

So I write.

It’s the only thing I’m really good at.  The only thing people really notice about me.

I write in the hopes that someone will understand.

That someone will relate.

That someone can take what I have experienced and draw something good from it.

And that maybe I’ll get some of that goodness back.

This winter has been pretty good.  My strategies are working.  My support personnel are solid.  But there will always be days where I can’t help it.  Can’t help FEELING IT.  The old familiar sting of that cold, unrelenting loneliness.  The kind of loneliness that can strike even when you are in a room full of loved ones.

One of the best albums for this time of year is Catherine Wheel’s Adam & Eve record.  It captures it all.

“Start the day, in a cold December way, feel what’s new, it’s December through and through.”

And on the same record:

“And we crown ourselves again,
There’s been no change since you and I were young,
When we burned ourselves again,
The spaceship days when you and I were young.”

I crave those spaceship days so hard sometimes.  But you can never really go back.

Except with a song.

Come back with me.  Join me in my memories, on this sad, cold winter day.

#972: Snowfort Hippies

RECORD STORE TALES #972: Snowfort Hippies

2022:  the winter that snow came back in a big way! The sheer size of the snowbanks brings me back to the winter of ’85, in my old neighbourhood.  The snowbanks on the corner rival the ones we had in my youth, something I have not seen in many years.  And I remembered the snowfort that George Balasz built on that corner; a regal thing indeed.  The most palacious snowfort I have ever occupied!  And even this story works its way back around to music.

1985 was the year I got seriously into hard rock.  The Pepsi Power Hour was my favourite show and I was just absorbing all this new music through my neighbours.  George had an excellent LP collection and he’d always let me tape whatever I wanted.

He had a house on the corner, and in the winter the snowbanks built up as high as I could stand.  That was the year he built the ultimate fort.  As I remember it, the fort had plywood roof supports, and four rooms inside, lined up in a row.  You could squeeze four or five kids in there.  My dad was always afraid we’d get taken out by a wayward errant car, but it never happened.  He didn’t like us hanging out with George (thought he was a pervert) but he really didn’t like us hanging out in that snowfort.

George ran an extension cord out to the fort so we could listen to tapes on his ghetto blaster.  We had a conversation about Judas Priest.  Defenders of the Faith was their latest record and I was well familiar with the music video for “Freewheel Burning”.  But I was just learning the basics and I had a lot of questions.

“What’s a hippie?” I asked George.

He didn’t really know, but acted like he did.  His authoritative answer was “Hippies have long hair.”

“Well then what is Ian Johnson at school talking about?” I asked him.  “He said he didn’t like Judas Priest because they’re a bunch of hippies.  But Rob Halford doesn’t even have long hair.”

“You’re right,” said George.  I was happy to know a few things like the names of some of the members.  George or Bob Schipper gave me my first Priest poster, with the five of them standing in a row in the Defenders-era costume.  I thought Dave Holland looked the coolest because of that moustache.  I taped a copy of the album, but Priest songs like “Eat Me Alive” were still a bit on the heavy side for me.

I wonder what Ian was on about, with that hippie comment.  He probably had no idea what the word meant either.  Priest might have been considered hippies in the early 1970s, when they were wearing kaftans and denim floods.  They abandoned that look a long time ago and were really known for their leather and studs.   Meanwhile, Ian Johnson ditched the metal for new wave, by his own admission, in order to find a girl.  His opinions and stories changed regularly.

Though my dad worried, and this irritated me, we had good times in that snowfort.  George was a bit of a local punching bag, a strange guy slightly older who shoplifted and read porn.  He seemed desperately lonely some times, and maybe he had to be if he was hanging out with all these younger kids.  He was the oldest teenager in the neighbourhood and it didn’t seem like he had a lot of friends at school.  I could identify with the latter.

As the snowfort hippies bantered about Priest, one teaching and one learning, the boombox would be moaning out our favourite songs.  We talked about how cool it would be to put in a TV in the fort, but a warm spell eventually caved in the roofs.  Although George undertook a mighty rebuilding effort one afternoon, the fort was all but done for the year.

But not done in my memory.  As I drive around the corner, I smile remembering my dad’s warnings about safety.   I play some Defenders of the Faith and raise my coffee to George, now long gone himself.

To the good times, my snowfort hippie friend.

#934: What Now?

RECORD STORE TALES #934:  What Now?

I sound like a broken record at the end of every summer.  It’s tough to keep the spirits up at this time of year.  It’s likely I’ve taken my last swim of 2021.  Next time we get to the lake, the sun will be down by the time we arrive.  And then will come the day it is covered with snow, and empty for the winter slumber.

Music helps – music always, always helps.  So does writing.  But it is an annual challenge.

When I was a kid, the end of August would signal the start of the “sad times”.  The back-to-school ads.   Reminders that I was going to have to spend another year with a bunch of bullies again.  Then the colder weather started to roll in.  Our family would take two weeks of vacation in August but back then, they were two cold, rainy weeks. (Not like today.)  You had to start dressing in long pants and sweat shirts.

Shopping for notebooks and new school clothes.  Realizing that a few weeks of warm freedom were about to be replaced by 10 months of misery.  I hated Labour Day weekend.  Back to the “hell hole” as my sister would say.  These feelings stick with me today.  I can’t flip the calendar from August to September without them.

Even though I’m not in school anymore, the heavy heart returns.  I now know that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and it’s something I need to fight every fall.

Last year was a success!  I avoided the seasonal depression.  I spent my summer making lots of videos, to take me back there in my mind when I needed it.  I also had the show, the LeBrain Train, to look forward to every weekend.  This year is different.  The videos and photos don’t have the same impact two years in a row, and since May the LeBrain Train has become more of a burden than a joy.  I need something new to keep my spirits up this winter, and I don’t yet know what that is.  It is true that we have a long September ahead, warm but shorter days.  I hope this mitigating factor helps.  I think what I really need is some new creative spark to keep me looking forward.  Last year it was the LeBrain Train but the burnout factor has ensured that I need something fresh that I can look forward to from September to May.

What used to cheer me up at this time of year?

As a kid I used to be excited for a new season of the Pepsi Power Hour which hasn’t existed in 30 years.  I don’t watch a lot of TV these days, but fortunately Marvel has constant content forthcoming on Disney+.  We have a new Iron Maiden album to look forward to, but the idea of new music from my favourite bands doesn’t have the same excitement factor as when I was 15 years old.  Yes I’m happy there is a new Iron Maiden coming, but compared to the sheer expectation of Seventh Son coming out in ’88?  No chills.

It feels like…work?  Like I haven’t finished digesting The Book of Souls and here comes another one.  I can’t remember how half that album goes, and now we have a new one to get to know.  It’s not like in the old days when I felt literally starved of Iron Maiden because I’d played all their albums over and over and over.  Now, there are so many that you don’t necessarily even play them all in a year.

Back then, getting a new Iron Maiden album felt just as amazing as a new Star Wars or Marvel movie today.  Something you have been anticipating for a while.  Music videos were like movie trailers.  We’d watch repeatedly, we’d pause, and we’d slo-mo trying to glimpse details.  Costumes, instruments, stage sets, all of it.

When I was working at the Record Store, I still didn’t know that this seasonal depression thing was real and not just me.  It often came and went in spurts.  I used to call them a “big blue funk”.  2003 was a very “funky” year for me.  I’d been dumped (twice) by my Radio Station Girl, and even with a new Iron Maiden in my back pocket (Dance of Death, and also a new Deep Purple called Bananas) I still felt like I needed to do something to help me get through the winter.  And there was something I used to do to pick myself up back then, especially if I had my heart broke.  Yes, broken hearts are for assholes, but I chose to get new holes.  On September 3, I went to Stigmata in Guelph and got my nose pierced.

It was my third visit to the tattoo studio that year.  After Radio Station Girl dumped me, I got my lip pierced at Stigmata.  A couple months later I got my tragus pierced — that piece of cartilage at the opening of your ear.  A friend of mine named Lois Sarah had just started piercing there and if I remember the details correctly, I was a guinea pig.  It’s fun to go back and read my notes!

Lois asked if I was ready. I said yes, and she asked me to take a deep breath and exhale….

I said, “Wow, I didn’t feel a thing.”

Lois said, “That’s because it’s not through yet.”

I felt the needle go through at least 3 distinct layers of cartilage. Each one hurt more than the last. On the last layer, I said, “FUCK” and both my legs shot out. 

Lois did a great job and it’s the one piercing that I do still have.

But September 3 2003 was just my nose, nothing too painful.  It was Labour Day weekend once more, and I decided to go for it.  Normally I went to get a piercing with a “wingman” but this was my first time going alone.  I distinctly remember wearing my Iron Bitchface T-shirt.  An uber-cool looking guy with a massive afro shot me an approving glance, so I felt good from the get-go.

I was led to the back room, but not before washing up my hands with disinfectant gel. I sat down in the Very Big Chair, as I liked to call it, and Lois prepared the goods. She marked my nostril with a dot and got the position right where I wanted it. Then she applied some iodine to the area, both inside and out. She tested out the position of the receiving tube, and finally asked me to take a deep breath.  As I exhaled, the needle went in no problem. Almost no pain at all. I’ve been pinched harder.  (By your mom.)

The rest of the year still sucked, nose ring or not.  It was the year of working with the Dandy, a manchild that drove me slowly mad as he sucked up to the big-wigs.  Work was miserable and not getting any better.  But at least I was proactive, and did something that I thought would help.  Something that helped in the past.

I’ve been there and done that with piercings, and though I like the look of them, I don’t enjoy the upkeep.  I prefer to spend my money on something more permanent, like a tattoo.  That’s something to consider, but I think I need to look elsewhere for a bright spot this winter.  Maybe I will find my joy in the live show once again, but I can’t count on it.  Truth be told, I haven’t been feeling it as much since May.  I remember telling Deke that I was struggling and he suggested back then that I take a break.  But I didn’t feel like I could take that break until the end of the summer.  And here we are.

So now I search for some new slant on my creative outlet to revitalize me.  Something to look forward to regularly.  I was very lucky during the winter of 2020-2021.  I hope I can pull it off again!

 

#896: Plans

RECORD STORE TALES #896: Plans

Plans.  Gotta make ’em, but sometimes nothing goes according to them.

Winter is over.  We made it through.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately acronymed as SAD), so winter is always a hard time.  It feels good to be on the other side of it, and not have to put on layers of warmth just to take out the garbage.

Last fall I made some plans to make it through the winter.  I completed some, and I left others unstarted.  That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and what was winter 2020/21 but a shitty stale crumbled up cookie?

As we hunkered in for the winter, I gave myself a couple projects to keep me occupied.  One was continuing with the VHS Archives.  I accomplished very little on this.  I did not play any video tapes at all this year, and only uploaded videos I already had on my hard drive.  This season I only posted six videos.

I also wanted to teach myself Photoshop this winter.  I didn’t get anything done there.  As it turns out, I didn’t really have to, thanks to the generosity of friends.  Good ol’ T-Bone has donated his time and made plenty of great artwork for the LeBrain Train live show.  Plus our artist friend Saige did some great work too.  I’m so lucky that we have built such an amazing community of artists and writers together.

Speaking of the live show, I had one plan that I thought would be easy, but never came to be.  As a proud Canadian boy, I wanted to show some of our American friends (especially the one in Hawaii!) what a Canadian winter looks like.  I planned on doing a live show outdoors in a snow storm.  I thought that would be an absolute hoot.  The weather never really aligned with a good live stream day.  It was kind of a mild winter compared to others.

Looking back at the goals from the fall, there are two I did accomplish. One was to make a dashcam video of a shitty winter drive, set to the music of Max the Axe. I did that with “Magnum P.I.” and it is a great example of a typical winter commute.  The second mission accomplished was to keep on live streaming.  I still haven’t missed a week — knock wood.

I couldn’t have done it without my friends.  You know who you are.  Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re one of ’em.

VIDEO: Max the Axe – “Magnum P.I.” / Crap winter drive

Now I remember what I hated about winter in seasons past.  It’s the goddamn traffic.

Please enjoy (?) this drive to and from work at 8x speed.  Lots of flashing lights and obstructions but made it safe both ways.  Could have been a lot worse.  There was a fatality on the road yesterday due to the weather.  For those of you who have never driven in the snow — you’re gonna love this.

Music is “Magnum P.I.” by Max the Axe from the album Max the Axe released 2004.  The album contains other hits you may know from prior videos such as “I Don’t Advocate Drugs” and “My Daddy Was a Murderin’ Man”.

 

Sunday Chuckle: Tom’s Frozen Beater

Here’s a Sausagefest telling of what would later become Record Store Tales Part 289:  Tom’s Frozen Beater.  This was recorded for the 2013 ‘Fest.

Part 289: Tom’s Frozen Beater

TOM1

RECORD STORE TALES Part 289:  Tom’s Frozen Beater

This is a previously unreleased story!  It was first recorded in audio format only, as a special “exclusive” Record Store Tale for Sausagefest XII.  Now, the text version is available for all to enjoy — a rare exclusion to the “What happens at Sausagefest, stays at Sausagefest” rule.

It was early in 1995, winter.  The near-legendary Tom, who today hosts Sausagefest every year, was working the day shift at our mall store.  I was working the 5-9 shift.  As was my modus operandi, I showed up early (about 4:30) to check out the new stock and do bank runs.  Tom and I caught up for a bit; he was acting as store manager for the moment and let me know what needed to be done.

His shifted ended, Tom met some of his friends at the store, and departed.  I began my shift and started pricing new CDs for sale.

10 minutes later, Tom and his friends stormed back into the store.

TOM2“FUCK! Fucking piece of shit car! Fucking doors are frozen shut!”

It was the first time I had ever seen Tom enraged.

“Jeez, is there anything I can do to help?”

“Not unless you have lock de-icer on you,” Tom responded.  I did not have lock de-icer.  I had walked to work.

I’m assuming the Zellers store in the mall was also sold out of de-icer, because Tom’s next proposed solution surprised me.

“Fuck it.  I’ll just sleep here tonight.  I have to open tomorrow anyway.  Yeah, fuck it.  This is fine.  I’ll fucking just lie down in between Easy Listening and Rap.  Fuck it.  Yeah.  Fuck, I’m sleeping here tonight.”

Great googly-moogly!  Was that even allowed?  Tom scoped out that section of floor, eyeballing it, making mental measurements.

“Fuck, this is perfect, I’ll just sleep right there on the floor.”

Thankfully one of Tom’s friends found some hot water from the mall coffee shop, and with some effort they got one of the car’s doors open.  If they hadn’t, it might have been the first time somebody slept on the floor!  (It would not have been the last time – a homeless man fell asleep on my floor in the middle of the afternoon once.)

Tom however has a different conclusion to the story:  “A little piss on the lock and voila…”

S*** LeBrain’s Dad Says: Howlin’ Banshee!

One day in the winter, I was getting up for another day at the record store.  My dad was already up obsessing about the Weather Network.

“Are you going to work today?”

“Yeah dad…why wouldn’t I?  It’s Thursday.”

“Well you better be careful, it’s a howlin’ banshee out there today!”

I look out the window, and saw literally two snowflakes floating through the air.

Sheesh!

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